In the stressful inception, creation, and first year of a business, the to-do list stretches for miles. There is always something new to build, a new system to implement, new avenues for marketing, skills to improve, staff to train, equipment to fix, contacts to make, and supplies to source. Nothing is ever good enough, profit margins are never big enough, processes are never efficient enough, and there are never enough hours in a day.
In any line of work, especially when it is imbued with a rich and meaningful ministry purpose, it can be all too easy to slip into workaholism, and this is perhaps especially true in Business for Transformation (B4T).
I reckon that is the case for any entrepreneur and any new business, but when one adds in the Kingdom mission, holistic transformation, and immense social work factors to the equation, the need to do more all the time is amplified many times over.
Suddenly, in addition to simple pride, ambition, the need to succeed and the desire for financial security, you add in the pressure of responsibility for those social, physical, and spiritual benefits which the business exists to provide, and the strong desire that comes with feeling called by God to a specific job rather than falling into a job that makes a living.
For example, in the case of the Freedom Bakery: the opportunity, the empowerment, the hopes and dreams of women rescued out of exploitation in the sex trade all hinge on the success and sustainability of the bakery.
The bakery as a third space for connection, creative innovation, and opportunities for relational ministry only happens if the bakery succeeds at keeping its head above water and a profit on the table. And it only is able to employ more women out of the trade if it not only survives, but flourishes and grows. The pressure to succeed is enormous, taking on a moral and spiritual dimension and weighing on the body and soul.
The Warning Signs of Workaholism
I can’t speak for others, but for myself at least, this turned into taking on a pressure where my sense of fulfilling my calling became falsely equated with the hours I put into building the business. Consciously or unconsciously, working myself to the point of complete exhaustion meant complete devotion to the mission, and a screw up in a business assignment was a spiritual screw up under the watching eyes of supporters, colleagues, and God.
A mistake in the coffee supply order or a brief marketing lapse became amplified to the extent that they were existentially infuriating and spiritually heartbreaking.
When we hone in on our performance and our appearance, when we get sucked into the hurrying and rushing, consciously or unconsciously work can become our idol
Performance can quickly turn into the metrics by which one tries to earn God’s favor.
The Reality Check
In his study on Galatians, Tim Keller writes:
“God does not love us because we are serviceable; he loves us simply because he loves us. This is the only kind of love we can ever be secure in, of course, since it is the only kind of love we cannot possibly lose…. The gospel destroys the fear of man’s approval.”
God does not measure His love for us by our performance. God does not cherish us more if we make the business quota. My identity in Christ does not wane when I mess up on a coffee bean order.
The Problem: I Don’t Wait Well
I have a friend who is notorious for buying his own presents. He deprives himself of the experience of receiving a gift because he can’t wait long enough for his birthday or Christmas. Many of us are this way with the most precious gift of all: God’s grace.
That is why historically, the church has seasons like Lent and Advent, times of practicing patience and improving at waiting, so that we can receive God’s greatest gift. A gift that radiates the Father’s affection for His children. A gift that we cannot earn. A gift for which we must wait. And waiting is the hardest command for those of us who, like myself, are driven by performance, achievement, doing, and getting things done.
Waiting for God to decisively act is the solution to my perfectionism because He is perfect. He achieves what I can never reach. He is the Great Physician, the Lord of all Creation, the Redeemer who ushers in the beginnings of freedom and the wholeness for which I am striving—and in which I am only a participant. He is the Lord.
Pause long enough to see a bit of this glory. Let it change your perspective.
In Jesus Christ, love came down to bring freedom from helpless striving. Love came down in the form of a perfect human so that I do not have to be perfect. His love for this world and His plan to redeem it are far better and more thorough than any work that I can do in a Freedom Bakery.
Walking in Good Works, Prepared for Us
God’s grace, of course, does not mean that hard work or good work is pointless, or that we have an excuse for slowing down to the point of mediocrity. On the contrary, doing a job well is glorifying to God. Ephesians 2:10 says that we are the workmanship of Almighty God, crafted beautifully like a poem or a sculpture or a tool made to do those good works which God Himself has set out before us to walk in.
To embrace the gospel in our work is not to live in a stress-consumed, always busy, and never-ceasing state of fear and obsession over failure, nor is it to just go halfway in our efforts. Rather, the gospel drives out fear, eases our burden to perform perfectly, and propels us with the promises that we have been crafted by God for His purposes for which He will empower us.
The hours and weeks may still be long, the work tiring, the sacrifices painful, and our aim should still always be excellence in everything that we do for the glory of God. But work through freedom rather than fear, trust rather than impatience, for a God who loves frees us from the shackles of perfectionism and busyness and allows us to slow down and hear the lavish delight of God in His people (Zephaniah 3): “He will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.”